On Our Doorstep – Film Review

The ‘Calais Jungle’ might be a phrase that stirs up memories for anyone actively following news footage in 2015/ 2016. This new documentary, On Our Doorstep, provides on the ground insight from such an unprecedented period where a makeshift camp, in Calais, was formed to house stateless migrants having fled dangerous conflict within Syria and other countries. Their collective dream was to enter the United Kingdom. However, another two phrases born out of such times, were the ‘hostile environment’ and the ‘nasty party’. The UK’s ruling party, the Conservative Party, had created restrictive policies to reduce the number of migrants entering the UK. As such, hostility was faced from both the UK and France, with no immediate support available. Plus, the UK’s decision to opt out of the Schengen Agreement meant that a hard border rendered many migrants unable to enter the UK seamlessly. With no readily available NGO support, a perilous situation quickly ensued leading to those makeshift camps set up by volunteers, which became the ‘Calais Jungle’ and is On Our Doorstep’s focus.

On Our Doorstep provides that immersion into the day-to-day reality within the camps. It is an unflinching portrayal from director Thomas Laurance, who worked as a volunteer in the ‘Jungle’ over the course of a year. Yet, it is a cinematic, moving and emotive account with a dramatic score. With footage gathered from many volunteers, sharing an altruistic goal, the film is sufficiently self-aware to discuss the notion of privilege, as the volunteers could return to the UK at any moment, compared to the migrants. There is no doubt that the documentary crafts an emotional tale, in highlighting the individuals. One journey underlined is that of a 12-year-old unaccompanied boy from Serbia. Liz, is his assigned volunteer, and becomes a surrogate family. It is through her heart wrenching feedback, that we learn of the treacherous routes of travel employed by some migrants. Refrigerated lorries are the main route taken with interspersed news footage revealing the reality of many migrants dying by such means.

On Our Doorstep is that urgent call to action depicting the commendable but heartrending volunteer mission of untrained individuals compelled to act after viewing news reports of the Calais migrant crisis. One could say that this may seem akin to a gap year project, as assistance is given in kitchens and building houses, but there are volunteers such as Liz, who become spokespeople to provide a voice on international news and make a plea about the desperate situation.

The documentary thus exposes biased news reporting, beamed in to the homes of viewers, which only indicated circa 2000 migrants living in the camp. The volunteers were therefore compelled to conduct a census at the camp which revealed an overwhelming amount of at least 10,000 migrants in residence. Under Laurance’s direction viewers are provided with immersive experience of the effect of this lack of consistency and support.

Calais Jungle in On Our Doorstep
Calais Jungle in On Our Doorstep

Laurance equally provides a humane but balanced direction injecting moments of positivity emphasising the camaraderie between the migrants and the rituals and activities within a constructed microcosm. However, On our Doorstep does not shy away from emphasising the protected space that the ‘Jungle’ also created for some of the women and children needing to be segregated for their survival. The ‘Jungle’ therefore served multiple purposes and its role was important to many, including the volunteers, to provide a raison d’être.

Friendly interaction between the volunteers and the migrants is also unveiled, despite language barriers. However, an impending sense of doom pervades as On Our Doorstep never glosses over the danger of the desperate, illicit routes of escape resorted to by migrants, which is a sobering thought.

Despite the eventual demolition of sections of the camp in October 2016, there was no strategic plan from the authorities to re-house the displaced migrants. It is disheartening viewing particularly as fires spread throughout the camp due to the widespread anger by certain members, which accelerated the danger. Laurance ratchets up the sense of panic, given that there were only untrained volunteers at the camp with no emergency services support. The camp was not recognised as a settlement camp, due to the lack of NGO support, and therefore even had to fend for themselves in fighting fires.

Support from actors such as Juliet Stevenson, who visited the camp, has assisted to highlight the migrants’ continuous predicament. There are still charities such as Choose Love, Care 4 Calais and others that remain on the ground in Calais. After the Jungle’s demolition, there were still reports in 2022 of at least 2000 migrants that remained residing in the area.

On Our Doorstep is, therefore, that powerful, thought-provoking documentary that will re-ignite the discourse concerning the housing of migrants from war torn locations. It is an impactful reminder, which will hopefully raise awareness of the need for further aid to be granted to prevent more lives from being unnecessarily lost on the perilous journey from Calais to the UK.

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